Dreaming of Summer

It’s April, it’s snowing, and we still have two more months of snowboarding ahead (this is a good thing). But as each day passes I’ve been thinking more and more about summertime. Here’s a few photos from a backpacking trip I did last summer in the San Juan Mountains near Durango, Colorado.

Pigeon Peak

Lily on the lookout for marmots. Lilly carries all her own stuff, and even some of my stuff too! What a team player.

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John Scurlock

John Scurlock

Anybody who does not believe that the North Cascades are the most bad-ass mountains in the lower 48 should take a look at John Scurlock’s online gallery of aerial photographs of that rugged mountain range. Flying low circuitous routes in his homebuilt airplane and shooting though a plexiglas canopy, John has amassed an amazing collection of photos of the mountains of the Northwest. In the spirit of Bradford Washburn, John’s photos are both documentary and flat out stunning at the same time.

Check out his article “Flight to Desolation”, published in the NorthWest Mountaineering Journal (which by the way is great website). Also be sure to browse through John’s own online gallery.

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Personal Locator Beacon

ACR Personal Locator BeaconThis is an ACR GPS Personal Locator Beacon, or “PLB” for short. It is my safety net when I go out solo on long backpacking trips.

Here’s how it works: If I had an accident that left me unable to walk out of the wilderness, I extend the antenna and press the button to activate the help signal. An internal GPS receiver acquires my GPS coordinates and the PLB transmits them along with my personal identification code through satellites to an NOAA station (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The NOAA station then calls my emergency contacts (friends and family phone numbers that I’ve registered beforehand) to ensure that I am indeed out in the wilderness and it’s not a false alarm. They then contact the local Search and Rescue team, which would initiate a rescue operation – knowing my exact location.

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Winter Camping in the West Needles

Winter Camping

Lured by a full moon and a forecast of clear skies, this last weekend I went backpacking for two nights in the West Needle Mountains in the San Juans near Silverton, Colorado. This area is incredibly photogenic; from my campsite on a 12,200 ft ridgeline, I enjoyed broad vistas of the Needle Mountains, the West Needles, and all the peaks of the Molas Pass area.

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Interview with Kenzo Okawa

Kenzo Okawa

Kenzo Okawa is a mountain photographer in China with an amazing portfolio of images from the Siguniangshan, or Four Girls Mountains. I discovered Kenzo’s work years ago on SummitPost.org, where he is a regular contributor. Kenzo was gracious enough to answer my questions via an email interview, as follows.

Be sure to check out Kenzo’s photo collection at his online gallery and also at his SummitPost gallery.


Judging from your photos, the Four Girls Mountains are incredibly beautiful and spectacular mountains. What kind of travel/trekking is required to get to the locations where you photograph?

The altitude of Four Girls Mountains is not as high as Nepal’s Himalayas, and some mountaineers call them “An ordinary part of lesser Himalayas.” But the mountain appeal is not decided only by altitude. I think that Four Girls Mountains are not stunning mountains, but they are particularly beautiful mountains. A town lying at the foot of the mountain is Rilong town, Xiaojin County, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, China.

It is around 31 degrees of north latitude, 103 degrees of east longitude. Three hours by range airplane from Shanghai to Chengdu of Sichuan Province. And 7 hours by bus from Chengdu(Chadianzi Bus Station) to Rilong Town.

Because the altitude is not high, from the town it is easy to access the locations where I photograph. Usually it takes one day by walking or horseback.

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Andrew Skurka & the Great Western Loop

“On November 3, 2007, Andrew Skurka became the first person to complete the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop, an ambitious journey that links the American West’s great long-distance hiking trails to traverse 12 National Parks and over 75 wilderness areas. Skurka, 26, completed his expedition by walking an average of 33 miles per day for 208 straight days, covering a distance equivalent to 262 marathons or twice the distance between Boston and San Francisco.”

Great Western Loop

This trek blows my mind. 33 miles a day. 208 days! Just the planning for this trip alone would be a monumental project, not to mention actually DOING it!

Andrew would be appalled if he saw me and my enormous backpack with 20 pounds of camera gear. I take a slow pace and enjoy relaxing and spending more time in each place I go, but I still dream about what it would be like to thru-hike a long trail. How would it feel to hike through the desert for weeks on end and then ascend up into the lush mountains? To experience first hand the great range of landscapes and climate on a continental scale?

Andrew’s excellent and extensive trip reports from his Great Western Loop adventure shed some light on the experience.

A Few Afternoon Shots

Here’s a couple photos from snowboarding this afternoon in the rugged peaks about five minutes drive from Ouray. March is here, and spring seems right around the corner, even though everything is still smothered in fresh snow. The sun is really getting higher in the sky these days, and the foot of fresh snow that fell last night had melted to a crusty 5 or 6 inches by the time we got out there for an afternoon run. Oh well… next powder day I’ll head out in the morning if I can.

splitboarding
Here’s Parker splitboarding up in front of a rugged San Juan backdrop.

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Google Earth: A Tool for the Landscape Photographer

I am primarily a wilderness landscape photographer. I enjoy backpacking for miles and miles into the wilderness, oftentimes where no trails exist and I have to find my own way with just my map, compass, and instincts. Whenever I plan a trip, I think about the vistas I might encounter, and of course the potential for photographing these vistas. If you’ve taken a peek at my photo gallery yet, you’ll see that I really like the grand scenics. I savor those huge expansive views and unique perspectives on rugged peaks, and I try to capture those scenes on film.

I spend hours pouring over topo maps, thinking about where I want to hike and camp. Topo maps can’t be beat for planning hiking routes, but when it comes to previsualizing potential photo opportunities, Google Earth is an incredible tool.

Wetterhorn Peak on Google

Wetterhorn Peak
Wetterhorn Peak, a remote 14er in the Uncompahgre Wilderness of Colorado, as seen on Google Earth, and in real life. This is one of those unique views that I had seen while I was flying around Wetterhorn in Google Earth, and thought it was a great perspective. So I went there during a two-night backpacking trip – hiked to the location on a high ridgeline, and hung out for several hours keeping an eye on the clouds and waiting for sunset light.

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